1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Somerset, Earls and Dukes of

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21492051911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 25 — Somerset, Earls and Dukes of

SOMERSET, EARLS AND DUKES OF. In the 11th century Somerset and Dorset were under the jurisdiction of one sheriff, and for a considerable period titles derived from each of these shires were borne by the same person. (See Dorset, Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of.)

The earldom of Somerset in the Beaufort family dated from 1397, in which year it was granted by Richard II. to John Beaufort (c. 1373–1410), the eldest of the three illegitimate, but afterwards legitimated, sons of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, by Catherine, wife of Sir Hugh Swynford, and daughter of Sir Payne Roelt. He was followed in the earldom successively by his three sons: Henry, who died unmarried in 1418; John (1404–1444), who in 1443 was created earl of Kendal and duke of Somerset, both of which titles became extinct at his death; and Edmund, who was created earl of Dorset in 1441, marquess of Dorset in 1443, and duke of Somerset in 1448. (See Somerset, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of.) On the execution of Edmund’s son Henry, 5th earl and 2nd duke of Somerset, by the Yorkists in 1464, his titles were forfeited by act of parliament; but his brother Edmund was from that date styled duke of Somerset by the Lancastrian party till his death in May 1471, when the house of Beaufort became extinct. (See Beaufort.) In 1499 Henry VII. nominated his infant son Edmund to the dukedom of Somerset at his baptism, but the child, who died within a few months, was probably never formally created a peer; the title, conjoined with the dukedom of Richmond, was, however, borne by Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry VIII., from 1525 till his death without heirs in 1536.

Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset (q.v.), known as the Protector, was the first of the line of dukes to which the holder of the title at the present day belongs, having been created Viscount Beauchamp of Hache, Co. Somerset, in 1536; earl of Hertford in 1537; and in 1547 Baron Seymour and duke of Somerset. His honours, which were entailed on the issue of his second in priority to that of his first marriage, being forfeited by attainder in 1552, Robert Carr became earl of Somerset (q.v.) in 1613, but died without male issue in 1645, when his title became extinct. A curious incident in the history of this title was the grant by Charles I. in 1644 of a commission to Edward Somerset, son of Henry, 1st marquess of Worcester, empowering him to fill up certain blank patents of peerage with a promise of the title of duke of Somerset for himself. After the Restoration this instrument was cancelled in consequence of a resolution of the House of Lords declaring it to be “in prejudice to the peers”; and the grantee, who had meantime succeeded to the marquessate of Worcester, surrendered his claim to the dukedom of Somerset in September 1660. In the same month the dukedom of Somerset and barony of Seymour were restored to William Seymour (1588–1660), great-grandson of the Protector, who in 1621 inherited the titles of earl of Hertford and Baron Beauchamp which had been granted to his grandfather Edward Seymour in 1559, and who, in 1640, had himself been created marquess of Hertford. This nobleman, who in early life had incurred the displeasure of James I. by marrying the king’s cousin, Lady Arabella Stuart, and had been imprisoned in the Tower for the offence, had later an exceptional claim on the gratitude of the royal house of Stewart, for he fought with distinction on the royalist side in the civil war, and was one of four lords (the others being the duke of Richmond, and the earls of Lindsey and Southampton) who petitioned the Commons to be allowed to assume responsibility for the actions of Charles I. and to suffer death in his place. He died in November 1660, a few weeks after his restoration to the dukedom, and, having outlived his three eldest sons, was succeeded by his grandson William, 3rd duke of Somerset (c. 1651–1671). As the latter died unmarried, his sister Elizabeth brought to her husband, Thomas Bruce, 2nd earl of Ailesbury, the great estates of Tottenham Park and Savernake Forest in Wiltshire; while the Somerset title devolved on John Seymour (c. 1628–1675), the 2nd duke’s fifth and youngest son. At the death of the latter without issue in April 1675 the marquessate of Hertford became extinct, and his cousin Francis Seymour (1658–1678) became 5th duke of Somerset. This nobleman was the eldest surviving son of Charles Seymour, 2nd Baron Seymour of Trowbridge, whose father Sir Francis Seymour (c. 1590–1664), a younger brother of the 2nd duke of Somerset, was created a baron in 1641.

Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset (1662–1748), succeeded his brother Francis, the 5th duke, when the latter was shot in 1678 at the age of twenty, by a Genoese gentleman named Horatio Botti, whose wife Somerset was said to have insulted at Lerici. Charles, who thus inherited the barony of Seymour of Trowbridge along with the dukedom of Somerset, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge; and in 1682 he married a great heiress, Elizabeth, daughter of Joceline Percy, earl of Northumberland, who brought him immense estates, including Alnwick Castle, Petworth, Syon House and Northumberland House in London. (See Northumberland, Earls and Dukes of.) In 1683 Somerset received an appointment in the king’s household, and two years later a colonelcy of dragoons; but at the revolution he bore arms for the prince of Orange. Having befriended Princess Anne in 1692, he became a great favourite with her after her accession to the throne, receiving the post of master of the horse in 1702. Finding himself neglected by Marlborough, he made friends with the Tories, and succeeded in retaining the queen’s confidence, while his wife replaced the duchess of Marlborough as mistress of the robes in 1711. In the memorable crisis when Anne was at the point of death, Somerset acted with Argyll, Shrewsbury and other Whig nobles who, by insisting on their right to be present in the privy council, secured the Hanoverian succession to the Crown. He retained the office of master of the horse under George I. till 1716, when he was dismissed and retired into private life; he died at Petworth on the 2nd of December 1748. The duke’s first wife having died in 1722, he married secondly, in 1726, Charlotte, daughter of the 2nd earl of Nottingham. He was a remarkably handsome man, and inordinately fond of taking a conspicuous part in court ceremonial; his vanity, which earned him the sobriquet of “the proud duke,” was a byword among his contemporaries and was the subject of numerous anecdotes; Macaulay’s description of him as “a man in whom the pride of birth and rank amounted almost to a disease,” is well known. His son Algernon (1684–1750), by his first wife Elizabeth Percy, was called to the House of Lords as Baron Percy in 1722; and after succeeding his father as 7th duke of Somerset in 1748, was, on account of his maternal descent, created Baron Warkworth and earl of Northumberland in 1749, with remainder to Sir Hugh Smithson, husband of his daughter Elizabeth; and also Baron Cockermouth and earl of Egremont, with remainder to the children of his sister, Lady Catherine Wyndham. At his death without male issue in February 1750 these titles therefore passed to different families in accordance with the remainders in the patents of their creation; the earldom of Hertford, the barony of Beauchamp, and the barony of Seymour of Trowbridge became extinct; and the dukedom of Somerset, together with the barony of Seymour, devolved on a distant cousin, Sir Edward Seymour, 6th baronet of Berry Pomeroy, Devonshire. (See Seymour, or St Maur.)

The Seymours of Berry Pomeroy were the elder branch of the family, being descended from the protector Somerset by his first marriage, the issue of which had been excluded from succession to the titles and estates until after the failure of the issue of his second marriage (see above), which failure occurred on the death of the above-named Algernon, 7th duke. Sir Edward Seymour (1695–1757), who thus became 8th duke of Somerset, was grandson of Sir Edmund Seymour, Speaker of the House of Commons in the reign of Charles II. His two sons succeeded in turn to the dukedom, and his grandson Edward Adolphus, 11th duke (1775–1855), was a mathematician and scientist of some distinction. The latter’s son Edward Adolphus, 12th duke (1804–1885), was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, and from 1830 till he succeeded to the peerage in 1855 he was a Liberal member of the House of Commons as Lord Seymour, first for Okehampton, and afterwards for Totnes. He held various offices in Lord Melbourne’s administration from 1835 to 1841; was a member of Lord John Russell’s cabinet in 1851; and first lord of the admiralty from 1859 to 1866. In 1863 he was created Earl St Maur of Berry Pomeroy. He refused to join W. E. Gladstone’s ministry in 1868, but he gave independent support to the chief measures of the government. He died in November 1885. In 1830, while still Lord Seymour, he married Jane Georgiana, youngest of the three celebrated daughters of Thomas Sheridan, who was the “Queen of Beauty” at the famous Eglinton Tournament in 1839. The duke was the author of Christian Theology and Modern Scepticism (1872), and Monarchy and Democracy (1880). As his two sons both died unmarried in his lifetime, the family titles, except the earldom of St Maur, which became extinct, devolved on his two brothers successively; the younger of whom, Algernon Percy Banks, 14th duke (1813–1894), was succeeded by his son Algernon (b. 1846) as 15th duke of Somerset.

The title of Earl St Maur adopted by the 12th duke in 1863 is said to have been the original form of the family name of which Seymour was a later corruption, and since the last-mentioned date it has been assumed as the family surname of the dukes of Somerset.

See Seymour, or St Maur, and the authorities there cited.  (R. J. M.)